Ukraine foes sign crisis deal
Published 21/02/2014 | 02:38
Ukraine's opposition leaders have signed a deal with the president and European mediators for early elections and a new government in hopes of ending a deadly political crisis.
It could be a major breakthrough in a months-long crisis over Ukraine's future and identity that worsened sharply this week and left scores dead. A key question is whether the thousands of protesters camped out in Kiev will accept it.
Two opposition spokeswomen said the deal was signed in the Ukrainian president's office today, but had no details.
The signing came hours after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced early presidential elections and promised to bring opposition members into the government. He did not give a time frame.
The US, Russia and European Union are deeply concerned about the future of Ukraine, a nation of 46 million that has divided loyalties between Russia and the West.
Shots rang out again today near the protesters' camp in Kiev, a day after the deadliest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history. It is unclear whether anyone was hurt or injured in the latest incident. At least 70 protesters were reported killed yesterday and over 500 wounded. The Interior Ministry said three policemen were killed and 28 suffered gunshot wounds.
"As the president of Ukraine and the guarantor of the Constitution, today I am fulfilling my duty before the people, before Ukraine and before God in the name of saving the nation, in the name of preserving people's lives, in the name of peace and calm of our land," the president said in a statement on his website.
Yanukovych also promised constitutional reforms trimming presidential powers, a key demand of protesters.
The opposition had rejected similar invitations to join the government in the past, saying that constitutional reform giving parliament greater powers has to be passed first.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is involved in the negotiations in Kiev, called for calm. He tweeted that it's a "delicate moment for the settlement and all must remember you don't get 100% in a compromise".
All this was not enough for some protesters, who accused the president of trying to buy time and want him out immediately.
Yanukovych, who triggered the protests in November by aborting a pact with the European Union in favour of close ties with Russia, has refused to step down.
"We haven't achieved anything yet, neither Europe, nor freedom, nor new leadership. We will stop our fight only after Yanukovych resigns. He has blood on his hands," said protester Stepan Rodich, speaking at the Independence Square known as Maidan today.
Several regions in the west of the country are in open revolt against the central government, while many in eastern Ukraine back the president and favour strong ties with Russia, their former Soviet ruler.